ATLANTA — At a martial arts gym in Atlanta, kids sit in a semicircle around their sensei. He talks to them about persistence, about trying their best and about managing their feelings.
They’re learning valuable lessons, said Austin Scee of Atlanta, who enrolled his son at the gym.
The kids have “to work hard and not cut corners,” he said. They develop resilience and self-control.
Which is why Scee, founder of an Atlanta-based private equity firm, created Power Up along with Michael Gandy and three others. The organization matches under-resourced kids with martial arts programs and funds their participation.
Begun in spring 2017, Power Up has already raised $50,000 and is applying for nonprofit status.
Last summer it sent 11 kids to a full-day six-week camp at an Atlanta gym, Power Up Martial Arts, where they took part in camp activities plus several hours of karate each day. The Power Up scholarship organization — which is different from the gym — plans to fund more than 40 kids by spring 2018. Scee sees it as a mentoring program that can be scaled up to benefit a large number.
Scee and Gandy both understand the opportunities many kids are missing. Gandy, who spent his early years in a housing project in Atlanta, was 9 years old when he was paired with 25-year-old Scee through the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program.
The two hit it off, but two years later Gandy was desolate when he learned his mentor was leaving to attend Harvard Business School. Their tie endured: Scee brought Gandy to visit him several times while at Harvard and later when in New York. And Scee flew home to Atlanta to meet with Gandy’s teachers when Gandy was a freshman in high school and his grades plummeted.
“He pushed me to be better,” Gandy recalled. Later, “he went with me on my college visits.”
The relationship grew into a lasting friendship over the years; each was best man to the other at their weddings. Gandy graduated from Colgate University, went on to earn an MBA from Harvard and now works as a business management consultant.
He is also a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. He sees Power Up as an organization that has the potential to reach a larger number of kids than Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Power Up has relationships with two gyms and envisions a network of gyms. Plans are underway to partner with several after-school programs, including LaAmistad and Agape Youth and Family Center in Atlanta, and to bring instructors to those after-school sites.
“Our model is essentially a database match,” Scee said. It involves a database of martial arts instructors who meet Power Up standards, a list of gyms that often have excess capacity, a list of kids who can benefit (provided by youth organizations) and a list of donors.
To Scee, an important function of the program is that it pulls together kids who might not otherwise get to know each other.
“There’s a double benefit. Rich kids can be in a class with underprivileged kids,” he said. “There’s a tremendous social benefit on both sides.”
Rich kids realize that the other kids are just as smart, and poor kids gain experiences they would not have had, he said.
“I want that for my son,” he said.
Gandy sees the value of Power Up from the lens of his own experience.
“So many kids can be helped by a program like this,” he said.